CLPS Program Plans to Take NASA to the Moon Faster than Ever Before: Excerpts from the von Braun Symposium
On September 10-12, 2019, the American Astronautical Society hosted the 12th Annual Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama. Produced in conjunction with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the symposium featured speakers and panelists from government, industry and academia, all speaking on the theme “Exploration is the Work of Generations”. One particularly exciting panel was “Lunar Landers – from CLPS to Human Missions,” featuring Jay Jenkins of NASA HQ, Camille Alleyne of NASA Johnson Space Center, Sharad Bhaskaran of Astrobotic, Greg Chavers of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and Seamus Tuohy of Draper.
The panel focused on the new Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, its role in NASA’s Artemis program, and the current and future state of lunar landers and exploration technologies.
Camille Alleyne, the Deputy Manager of the CLPS program at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), provided an overview of the CLPS program, including the ways in which it will facilitate NASA’s Moon by 2024 goal and how the program departs from previous approaches by NASA and commercial partnerships.
Basically, CLPS is “FedEx or DHL to the lunar surface,” Alleyne explained. It is a program that allows NASA to utilize nine vendors selected under an indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) master contract as exclusively service providers to transport payloads and instruments to the moon’s surface or into the lunar orbit. Specifically, these commercial vendors will provide launch vehicles, lunar lander spacecraft, lunar surface systems and associated resources to safely deliver NASA and other customer’s payloads to the surface. The goal is for NASA to be one of many customers that use the CLPS-provided transportation to the moon’s surface rather than the primary payload provider or manager of the missions.
“We are intending for about two deliveries a year, so we are going to be very, very active. By the end of FY19, we anticipated we will have six missions to the moon on the contract, flying at least 30 NASA instruments. So we are very, very excited about this project. It is very, very dynamic,” Alleyne noted.
Dynamism is one of the primary benefits NASA hopes to achieve through this new approach. With the Moon by 2024 goal quickly approaching, the CLPS program is a critical step towards expediting the progress of the Artemis program and establishing the Lunar Gateway. The CLPS program vendors were announced in November 2018, and two task orders have already been awarded through this contract.
“We wanted a fast cadence; we wanted to get to the moon quickly, so we are targeting 2021 presence – robotic presence – with the two task orders we have,” said Jay Jenkins, Program Executive, Office of Exploration, Science Mission Directorate from NASA HQ and the panel’s moderator.
The panel also featured representatives from the commercial side of the program. Sharad Bhaskaran is the Mission Director of Astrobotic, one of the nine vendors on the IDIQ contract. Recently, they were awarded the second task order of the contract, which requires them to deliver various instruments to the moon by December 2021.
For Astrobotic, simplicity and adaptability were the main focus. The Astrobotic lunar lander, Peregrine, was designed for “low complexity, high reliability,” with an open payload deck to accommodate a wide variety of instruments and payloads and the capability to deliver these payloads to any location on the lunar surface or into orbit.
The CLPS program will enable much critical work, including support for polar exploration, human exploration, global coverage of the moon, radio science on the silent side of the moon, and investigations into volcanic features. Critically, this will also be the method of delivering the new NASA-built lunar rover, the Volatiles Investigation Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), to the lunar surface. Jenkins expressed optimism about the potential for this rover, which will be capable of operating for more than one lunar day and will be used to develop resource maps of visited sites and use geostatistical measures to map volatiles and water throughout surface.
“We are here to make space accessible to the world. We are DHL to the moon, because DHL is our corporate sponsor,” Bhaskaran joked.
Luci Willis is a long-time space enthusiast and graduate student at the University of Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business.